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In the Community

Convener | Anchor | Partner | Systems-Change Leader

For more than 50 years, East Bay Center has proved that a cultural arts center can play a major role in community change by acting as a convener, anchor, partner, and leader in systems change.

It is critical that we take this work to a deeper level as our students and community continue to face racial inequities, systemic oppression, and poverty. We currently focus this lasting systems change work in six key areas:

School Reform

The Center has been a key partner of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) for over 40 years, providing performing arts instruction and supporting positive school climate and culture, in order to improve the well-being and overall success of 28,000 students in the district. Our work in these schools is testimony to how the arts have served as a means of healing for students and teachers. As a trusted long-term partner in more than 13 schools, we are in close collaboration  with teachers, site leaders, and decision makers in the district, with the goal of supporting their long term goals in the performing arts. 

We provide cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary classes in both in school and in after school programs, partnering with WCCUSD’s Office of African American Student Achievement, Expanded Learning Program, Visual and Performing Arts Department, and individual school sites. We continue to advocate for  programs like the Mafanikio program (supporting Black youth through academic coaching and arts and culture) to ensure that they are supported by district leadership.

We also are a key partner of Healthy Contra Costa’s  School Action Team, to support system-wide reform by organizing overall alignment between partners and the school district. This includes influencing and shifting the district towards clarity of goals and purpose, while upholding racial equity. WCCUSD serves over 28,000 students across five cities and six unincorporated areas. With a long history of underfunding, a severe lack of resources, and discouragingly low teacher retention rates, schools in this district have struggled to provide a quality education for many of its children.  The system remains marked by a lack of safety, and alarming financial challenges over the years. In early 2020, the district projected a $48 million deficit, and is still recovering/undergoing cuts in order to address this deficit. Declining enrollment and low attendance, which adversely affects funding, has contributed even more to these challenges. East Bay Center is responding to the call to support and lead systems-change, in order to help rebuild our schools and collective vision for WCCUSD students.


Community Resident Leadership

An essential component of all of East Bay Center’s programs is leadership development. We recognize that the strongest and most important voices for change are its leaders. Through our Student Leadership Council, composed of high school students, as well as our Parent/Guardian Leadership Group, we are supporting a leadership pipeline which is multi-generational and building a healthier community.

Our leadership groups are regularly called on to plan and support major community initiatives, particularly in the schools. Parents and students have attended school board meetings in a mobilization to support performing arts and mental health services, supported the campaign for the formation of the City of Richmond’s Department of Children and Youth, and participated in theInvest in Youth Coalition where we collaborate closely with the RYSE Center and YES Nature to Neighborhoods, both Richmond-based organizations, to create more positive opportunities for youth in the area.

Working with Healthy Contra Costa and partner organizations, we are carefully crafting a community-wide pipeline to support our youth leaders, as well as parents and guardians to engage in broader community organizing and systems-change initiatives. Additionally, we are focusing on centering student voice and leadership as we develop the next phase of East Bay Center’s curriculum. 

Key Policy and Systems-Change Initiatives

With members of our Center’s leadership team on Healthy Contra Costa County’s Executive Committee, Steering Committee, Economic Development Action Team, and School and Neighborhood Action Team, we aim to strengthen these broader initiatives through collective fundraising and organizing partners around common goals related to health, schools, and economic justice – always centering racial justice and resident leadership. We continue to support the overall goal of community alignment and resident engagement towards positive and sustainable community change.

A group of childern singing, holding sheet music.

In addition to Healthy Contra Costa, Center Staff have been involved in several key community projects/committees: Invest in Youth Coalition (IYC), Out of School Time (OST) Steering Committee for the OST Collaborative, West Contra Costa College Access Network, Full Service Community Schools Leadership Advisory Board, Contra Costa Steering Committee for Education, WCCUSD Visual and Performing Arts Strategic Planning Committee, the work group that developed the Blueprint to Prevent Interpersonal Violence in Contra Costa County, Contra Costa County Family Violence Prevention Task Force.

College Readiness, Admissions, and Student Support While in College

Thanks to two generous donors, we have implemented a college scholarship program in which all of our Young Artist Diploma Program graduates who complete their programmatic benchmarks (approximately 20 students) will receive at minimum $1,000/year towards tuition or room and board, and up to $20,000/year! This work is done in conjunction with college readiness partners 10,000 Degrees, Richmond Promise, and Metas.

 As we build this work, we recognize significant gaps in our community for low-income youth. This includes preparing students for college, helping them stay in college, and supporting them to complete a degree. The local high school has a 75% graduation rate with just 42% of students ready for college at a University of California or California State University system school. At East Bay Center, we have witnessed many of our alumni going to college and then returning and becoming leaders in the community, reinforcing how a college education can be transformative.

 We recognize that this is an exciting opportunity and are primed to ignite hope, excitement and energy in our college readiness partners, systems leaders, funders, and, most importantly, youth in Richmond.

Youth Voice through Performance

One of our students’ most powerful tools is expressing themselves through their performance.  Over and over again, we witness our students’ strength and courage to uplift the beauty in their worlds, while fighting for change. The Center is a trusted partner in building and sustaining an authentic narrative of Richmond – one that celebrates its residents, their beauty, and their history by highlighting self-identified stories, creative ideas and burning issues of our youth through the production of original compositions, theater and film works, choreography and site-specific work.  Through their performances, our students are shifting the narrative and working to make the world more just.

Most recently, our students are sketching a musical film/theater work delving into Richmond’s housing crisis, including the decline of Richmond’s African-American population, reduced by over 36% since 2005, as well as the perspective that policy must recognize that housing is about much more than just shelter. We are excited for more projects like this to emerge which center the voices of our youth.

Neutral Convener, Anchor and Community Cultural Center

East Bay Center is a cultural center, a community hub, and the main performing arts institution for Richmond and the surrounding areas (San Pablo, El Cerrito, and El Sobrante). We use our space and legacy as a convener to gather groups to work toward systems change. For over fifty years we have been – and will continue to be – a gathering place for the community, not only showcasing the performing arts, but for partnership and positive change.

Next Steps

East Bay Center is at  an important moment, in which we have the opportunity to further develop our systems-work towards a deeper and long lasting impact. With further support, we will be able to reinforce the city and county-wide efforts, which are continuing to grow and need strong leadership. Most importantly, we will be able to advance the evolving work we are committed to in areas of school reform, resident leadership, systems change, college readiness, youth voices through performance, and as an anchor and cultural center for the community.